For a full discussion of this topic, you can listen to the podcast episode here.
Dancing is a beautiful thing, and at its core I believe it is the fundamental laws of the Universe expressing themselves in front of us. How fortunate we are to perceive them in such a beautiful way — all of life’s important principles on display in a graceful and well-executed movement between two people.
I am a little biased because of my career as a professional ballroom dancer, but partnership dancing for me has been an amazing source of wisdom and life lessons in many important areas. It lead me to establish my own coaching and speaking platform as well as a podcast where I share my life lessons on and off the competitive floor.
I believe the principles I’ve learned through dance are relevant to every day life and business regardless if you have even set foot on a dance floor, and one of these areas is that of leadership.
If you want to create anything beyond the current situation of your life it will undoubtedly take an advance in leadership skills. There are many dimensions to leadership and, while I don’t hope to cover them all here (at least the ones I know), the point is that because it is such a diverse skill set — it is also one that we are continually working on.
Leadership takes many forms and doesn’t have to have anything to do with dancing, but I believe that you can dance your way through a business, a marriage, a meeting or conversation and anything in between. How do you know if you are dancing your way through it?
Dancing is a co-creative experience.
It is about having fun, building a connection, creating love, empowerment, a space for two to express and be. It is a generative thing — the ultimate goal of dancing is to produce something greater than the sum of the individual partners. This core principle is what creates the rest, with the first being that a good leader is a generative source for others.
Aleader is the source for others, this is what it means to be generative. You can’t be in leadership mode if you are worried, in scarcity, taking, or otherwise non-creative. As a leader people turn to you for inspiration, emotional balance, empowerment, comfort, ideas, support. In what areas can you be counted on to be a source? In what areas does your ability to generate need to be improved?
I’m grateful for my experiences with clients over the years because it taught me just how much a leader needs to constantly bring to the table. Taking clients through their first performance or competition always took an enormous effort of attention, awareness, care and motivation. You cannot have a low vibration, you must always be a source.
It is easy to fall victim to non-generating behavior like complaining, cynicism, negativity and complacency — try not to stay there too long because it’s not a place where leaders are made.
Good leaders also understand that leadership is not a singular phenomenon but a group situation. They are an empowering source for the people around them to become leaders in their own right, meaning they understand cooperation and trust.
An effective team that can juggle leadership is much stronger than one person trying to hold on to it.
“Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.” -Lao Tzu
Nature is incredibly organized and efficient, and as good leaders we should opt to mimic Her in every way we can. The ancients studied these things and, sadly, a lot of that wisdom escapes the modern curriculum as children go through school amassing (mostly) useless information in relation to the things that really matter like leadership.
To be organized ultimately comes down to your ability to employ systematic thinking — your relationship to the process, to timing and structure.
Everything in nature that has a low amount of entropy requires a lot of energy and effort to maintain it that way. There is a natural pull toward the void, toward homeostasis. Life itself exists because it dances with this pull and takes the lead in perpetually generating itself.
In dancing this comes as a natural realization because we have to coordinate countless parts of our body to the music. The music, in this case, is the rhythm of life that never stops and demands your choices and movements. You will either dance your way through life or get swallowed by the beat and feel overwhelmed or left behind.
A good leader who employs a structured and methodical approach also has learned to manage their time, energy and attention. All three are important because all three are a factor of your decisions. You may have the time, but you may lack the energy or the attention. Your attention might be there but you may not have the time.
Learning to manage all three in your creative and leadership role is key for mastering your systematic thinking and skills.
A final point about being organized is knowing what to control and when. A good leader doesn’t waste their time on controlling external variables that suck the energy out of their power to generate. A good leader applies that control in areas that are productive through discipline. It’s one thing to organize your desk and a totally different one to hound down your employees and police the organizational level of their desks.
Out of all the points in this article, this one can be expressed very well through dancing. Balance is a product of many things, but the first is alignment. In the physical world, our alignment generally refers to the spine and vertical axis. If you are too forward or backward, you fall to momentumand move (either controlled or otherwise).
But alignment in the world of ideas and values is a much more complicated place to navigate. It is not as obvious as up and down, left and right, forward and backward. There are literally infinite things you can align yourself with as a leader, directions and values of all kinds that generate the behavior (movement) of your next steps.
What are you aligning with and how is that impacting your choices? Are they balanced or are they reckless and under momentum? What is your vision, direction and purpose? Are your goals and actions in alignment with each other or is there resistance?
As a leader I found that all of my choices always came down to two things: do I push or do I let go. This was the Dance of Life. There was never a right answer, but I had to make a choice. The better I got at listening, being patient, being adaptable, employing these leadership concepts — the better I could read the situation and understand which option would be best.
What it always came down to, though, was understanding two opposing forces and reconciling them somehow. This is what we do in dancing or any kind of athletic movement naturally. Look in any Sports Illustrated magazine and you’ll see each athlete twisting their body with amazing opposing forces.
In life this is no different, and as a leader it means balancing opposing viewpoints on a situation so that your approach is as well-rounded as possible.
One way of seeing or doing things is not going to get you very far as a leader — that is, again, if you want to dance your way through life. There are plenty of examples in history and in the current day of “results” that employ force, one-sidedness and momentum.
A final point about balance is systemic thinking. Both systemic and systematic thinking are important mental skills to employ as a good leader. While systematic thinking deals with your ability to respect the process, systemic thinking approaches situations based on the relationships of things.
It is your ability to perceive the moving parts around you and adapt accordingly. In dancing we call this floorcrafting — the ability of the leader to wade through competitors and obstacles so that the judges, and audience, can see them. Good leaders are able to navigate the floor with patience, adaptability and courage.
They are socially intelligent and understand a situation from multiple angles rather than just one.
This gives them a balanced approach that creates sustainability in their choices and relationships and it is what makes them successful.
Asa person develops into a leader their responsibilities change from the realm of the physical to the informational. A good example would be a soldier and a general. One is out in the battlefield trenches, while the other is in a room overseeing the map and planning what everyone else will do.
The impact of of a soldier’s decisions is very different from a general’s, and thus leaders must inevitably employ more and more listening as they advance in skill and responsibility.
Awareness as a leader means several things. In dancing, the more skilled you are the less force and “leading” you have to do. If your partner is very good that means they are also very independent and need little assistance. What this boils down to is a situation where you do less and observe more.
Leading is not some micro-managing situation but more 80% listening and 20% deliberate, purposeful action.
Awareness also means empathy. If my end goal is, again, to dance my way through a situation, then it is a co-creative result I am seeking as a leader. If I want someone to do something for me, I must understand their part — just like in dancing a good leader is expected to know both party’s footwork, so too in life we must empathize with the person we want to create something with.
The final point is about non-obvious power. Awareness creates wisdom in our ability to use our energy as leaders and that manifests by developing our skill in leading without force.
I call this leading with gravity.
Gravity is a mysterious, amazing force that is so powerful yet so adaptable. It is strong enough to hurl the solar system through the cosmos yet gentle enough to let a feather fall to the ground peacefully.
What determines gravity? The density of an object. You can employ this principle in your life and leadership easily. We often chase outcomes and people and in the process expend our precious energy when we could convert it into building our density — our wealth, our muscle tone, our knowledge.
The more “dense” you become, the more your attractive potential builds and the more you can lead with non-obvious power.
A good leader doesn’t need to assert themselves or overcome anyone (most of the time) — strength and wisdom come from sources that are not as obvious yet much more powerful. These sources are discovered by honing your awareness, and a good leader is one who is aware.